Scientists have been experimenting with all kinds of ideas to extend their lives and give us a few extra years of existence, and now mouse research has yielded some intriguing results: a longer life thanks to hyper-long telomeres.
Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA material located at the tips of each chromosome in the cells of our body. When DNA is replicated – for example during cell division – these telomeres are shortened each time because replication does not reach the very tip of the chromosome.
Their existence acts as a kind of buffer, protecting the genetic material in our chromosomes, and shorter telomeres indicate that the cells wear off. In fact, as we get older, the telomeres get shorter and shorter. Many longevity studies are based on trying to keep these telomeres strong and healthy for as long as possible.
So far, these studies have been involved in trying to alter gene expression, but this new study does not rely on any kind of gene modification. The work is based on past research, in which biologists find that when induced pluripotent stem cells are allowed to divide into a Petri dish, they find themselves with extraordinary telomeres ̵
The same telomere extension has occurred with the embryonic stem cells cultured in this way. So, the researchers in the new study used embryonic cells with these double-length telomeres and bred chimeric mice without genetically modifying them at all.
"This finding supports the notion that when it comes to determining longevity, genes are not the only thing to consider," says molecular biologist Maria Blasco of the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) ).
The experiment works: long telomere mice live an average of 24 percent longer, are thinner, and less likely to develop cancer. Various metabolic aging indicators have also been found to be lower, the researchers said.
These mice have less "bad" cholesterol in their bodies and their DNA has not been damaged as much as animals have aged. Moreover, their mitochondria function better.
This is in line with previous studies made by the same team where activation of the telomerase enzyme to extend the telomere was sufficient to prolong longevity in mice.
Of course, it's important to remember that this is only a relatively small study in mice and does not mean that we will soon be producing humans with extremely long lifetimes.
But the exciting results of this study show a strong relationship between the length and life of telomeres in animals and may open up new ways to exploit this link.
In a world where almost everything seems to make our cells faster, it would make a refreshing change to find a way to release the brakes.
"Together, these findings show that longer than normal telomeres show a beneficial effect in mice, delay metabolic aging and cancer and lead to a longer life span," the paper concluded.
The study was published in by Nature Communications .